“The world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.”
– Albert Einstein
I was in first grade, and he was this well-built, tall kid. In hindsight, he might have had to repeat the year and was, therefore, older. I can’t remember now. And although I remember his name clearly, everyone called him “the gipsy”.
Many times the teacher asked him to sit at the back of the class. Kids made fun of him. And one day, he lashed out by stealing someone’s musical pencil box; he wasn’t even good at it, he hid it under his cap, which he had inside his desk. That then became the thing that defined him in everyone’s eyes, and he was eventually transferred to another school.
Nowadays, if the teacher asked someone to sit at the back of the class, based on the colour of their skin, their gender, their religion etc, I would be the first one to cry “foul”. But back then, that was the norm.
Today, however, we have no excuse to sit on the sidelines. And it’s not just to help someone in a moment of crisis. It’s about the greater good. I read an article the other day about echo chambers. It got me thinking that while we look at the extreme views on things and class them as echo chambers, perhaps we are all living in one of our own.
I have two people who have what I would categorise as extreme views on my Facebook list (or at least of the posts I see, these two I would categorise as extreme). I feel offended by the things they post. But I still read those things, because, as I said before, it’s important for us to be aware of the opinions out there, even the extreme ones.
With the rise of social media today, we can’t just say “they’re crazy” and move on anymore. We have a responsibility to engage. By simply dismissing their opinions, we fuel sinister echo chambers that are slowly getting more and more insulated.
The fact that we believe all rational human beings trust the historical facts regarding the Holocaust, for example, doesn’t mean that its deniers won’t present a compelling narrative to those willing to listen. The fact that every single Muslim I have ever met was a lovely person does not stop Islamophobia even in my Facebook feed.
And then what do you do? Do you just dismiss all those holding extreme beliefs? Might be worth remembering that those people will also be casting a ballot, and it’s going to be based on those beliefs.
The problem is that social media has changed the fabric of society. It used to be the case that conspiracy theorists would hold meetings in their basement, with a handful of others like them. The guy on the corner of the street does not have the same influence as the talking head on TV. However, social media has allowed everyone to have their own soapbox and preacher’s pulpit.
It is highly dangerous to ignore the fact that people are listening. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t see radicalised Westerners just like we wouldn’t see the rise and rise of the flat-earthers.
So yeah, I actively ask those with extreme views for their reasoning. We have to start getting used to hearing them, however offensive it might be. Because if we don’t listen, someone else will. And that someone might be inclined to agree rather than try to deter. We have to do something about it. It’s no longer a choice, it is our responsibility.
I believe that by at least exposing people to other perspectives, to the truth, we are working towards opening their minds. And with enough effort, we might be able to tip the scale.
That is the whole point of setting out to make the world a better place.
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